Two of Germany's traditional powerhouses, VfB Stuttgart and Hamburger SV, meet on Saturday evening in a showdown that could shape the relegation battle in the coming weeks (kick-off 18:30CET/17:30GMT).
Set to be broadcast live on FOX Sports, bundesliga.com provides the comprehensive guide on what to look out for in this fixture between the sleeping giants…
Light at the end of Stuttgart’s tunnel?
The outlook was bleak for Stuttgart following an awful start to the season in which they earned just ten points from a possible 39 under Alexander Zorniger. However, with the exception of a 4-1 loss to Borussia Dortmund on Matchday 14, new head coach Jürgen Kramny has established some much needed stability, and overseen a marked improvement. Now unbeaten in four games after collecting back-to-back victories for the first time this season, courtesy of 3-1 wins over VfL Wolfsburg and 1. FC Köln, there are signs that there is life in Stuttgart yet. However, they will need to build on those results against Hamburg this weekend in order to maintain their momentum.
Hamburg out to buck the trend
For the past two seasons Hamburg have had to battle for their lives to retain their status as the Bundesliga’s only ever presents. In 2013/14 they toppled SpVgg Greuther Fürth on away goals in a two-legged relegation play-off, while the following season culminated with a 3-2 aggregate win over Karlsruher SC that went to extra-time in the second leg. Intent on not suffering the same fate for a third consecutive season, the Red Shorts will be desperate to avoid a third straight league defeat that would allow Stuttgart to close the gap between the two sides to just a point.
Kramny solving backline issues
Stuttgart have conceded more goals (38) than any other Bundesliga side this season, but that figure is slightly misleading. Since Kramny took charge VfB have only let in seven goals in five outings, including the four they shipped against Dortmund in the coach's first game after stepping up from the reserve side.
HSV’s away form offers hope
While Hamburg's home form has been woefully inconsistent, only FC Bayern München (22) and Dortmund (19) have picked up more points on their travels than Hamburg (14). Head coach Labbadia, who was in charge of Stuttgart between December 2010 and August 2013, has returned to his former stomping ground just once since taking over at HSV. His charges suffered a 2-1 loss on the penultimate weekend of the previous campaign, a result which ultimately led to Stuttgart leap frogging them in the standings and surviving the season.
While Daniel Didavi (l.) has been one of Stuttgart's few consistently good performers this season, captain Christian Gentner, Timo Werner, Filip Kostic and Lukas Rupp have come on leaps and bounds since Alexander Zorniger’s departure. Florian Klein (one assist) is the only other player to have had a hand in any of Stuttgart’s last seven goals scored and, in the absence of Daniel Ginczek, keeping their five-piece frontline fit and in-form will prove pivotal to VfB climbing the standings.